Book Review: The History of the Medieval World

The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade

History was probably my least favorite subject in school, much to my history loving father’s chagrin. Somehow I managed to do well enough on the AP US History test (probably due to tutoring by that same father) to end up with 6 college credits in History. I like to point out to my Dad that obviously this means that I must know something about history; in reality it probably speaks more to the inadequacies of standardized testing as a true measure of knowledge. I was part of a honors program in college that did away with all the normal requirements so I was able to get through all of college without taking any more history.

All that to say I’m pretty woefully ignorant when it comes to history. Especially world history. As an adult I’ve begun to try to remedy this gap in my education. As shocking as it would be to my 16 yr old self, I’ve discovered that I really like history.

I think the problem in school was multifactorial. Leaving aside my own shortcomings as a student with a close-minded little teenage brain, part of it was that we studied the same parts of history every single year. There was way too much focus on random dates and memorization. And there was nothing that tied it all together for me, that gave me a feel for an overarching narrative.

As a way to begin to fill in my history self-education I’ve read the first two books in Susan Wise Bauer’s planned four volume history of the world series. I’ve enjoyed both quite a bit. Bauer has a knack for finding the interesting stories and characters and highlighting them.

As I read this book, I have to admit I asked myself at times whether or not it was worth it. Not because it wasn’t enjoyable or well-written. Because I wondered if it was worth spending my limited time and mental energy on things like details of medieval Korean kingdoms knowing that I’ll forget most if not all of what I read. It’s true that I probably won’t remember a lot of the details and that in my day to day life  it doesn’t really matter how much I know about medieval Korea.  However, what I got from this book was a better understanding of some of the overarching themes of the Middle Ages. I gained a little bit of insight into the history behind some of the issues still around today, like the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims.  I gained a better appreciation for the history and culture in areas of the world I know very little about.

Most importantly, I gained a better appreciation for history itself, and a desire to read more.

Which is another way of saying (as painful as it is to say) that my Dad was right all along.

(And by the way Dad, Happy Birthday!)

 

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The History of the Medieval World

  1. I also hated history with a passion when I was in school–it was all dry and boring and full of dates and names that I had no reason to care about–but now it is one of my favorite things. I think that is partly to do with a maturity on my part, and partly to do with the discovery of well written nonfiction. I’m glad to hear that you’ve enjoyed these volumes–I would like to get to them someday. I love how SotW is written, but I was still skeptical about the “grown up” version. 🙂

  2. I’m another history-hater from back in the day, but I think it was just the idea that I *had* to take the classes. But since I was a techo in college, I never took a collegiate level World or U.S. History class. So naturally now I can’t get enough history. I don’t usually go for such substantial books, though. But I’ll consider it…

    BTW, I should put in a plug for The Teaching Company’s history lectures, probably available at your library. Awesomeness.

  3. Thanks Seth, I’ll have to try those lectures. I think one of the libraries around here does have The Teaching Company DVD’s. One problem I have though is I’m much more of a visual learner so I do better reading a text than listening to a lecture.

    Melody and Amy, I hope you do give them a try someday. I like SoTW also (we use it for history) but these are very different. I think SWB really does have a gift for writing well for different ages.

  4. I’ll agree that SWB’s history books are laden with detail. She does meticulous research. I’m the same way in that I feel I only retain about 1/10th of what she’s written!

    I second the Teaching Co. suggestion.

    Good review!

  5. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: February 5, 2011 | Semicolon

  6. Was your copy missing pages? Mine goes from page 42 to page 75. They are not torn out… just not there. I’ve read tons of books in my life and never seen anything like this before.

  7. Never mind… Upon further investigation I have found that my copy begins with pages 1 – 42. At that point we detour to page 75 and continue to page 106. Then we warp back in time to page 43 and move on to page 74 where we return to page 107 and then seem to continue on in a more or less normal order. Interesting anyway.

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